Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Barbara Mandrell, “Happy Birthday Dear Heartache”

“Happy Birthday Dear Heartache”

Barbara Mandrell

Written by Mack David and Archie Jordan

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

March 30, 1984

A dispiriting trend in this series has been big stars enjoying their final No. 1 single with lesser efforts.

That makes logical sense, of course.  Usually star power is enough to get lesser material across the finish line.  But it’s still disappointing to write about an artist for the last time and not have many nice things to say about their final No. 1 record.

“Happy Birthday Dear Heartache” is beautifully sung, but that’s about all I can put in the plus column for it.  Everything else about it is either incredibly derivative or downright bizzare.

You’ve heard this melody and production a million times before, and they accompany a flat out weird lyric that has Mandrell celebrating the birthday of her getting dumped. With a cake.  And one candle.  And a promise to do the same thing next year.

It’s so strange that if you told me it had been on SCTV as a parody, I would believe you.  

Mandrell remained a presence on country radio for most of the eighties, earning her final top five hit in 1988 with “I Wish I Could Fall in Love Today.”  She was a major label artist through the early nineties, and recorded “Do You Know Where Your Man Is” two years before Pam Tillis, who eventually had a top twenty hit with it.

Her autobiography was turned into a made for television movie later in the decade, and while she retired from performing in 1997, she has continued to earn accolades for her career.  She’s a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Country Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame, and the Musicians Hall of Fame, and just last year, she celebrated her fiftieth anniversary of being a Grand Ole Opry member.

Her career overall gets an A, but…

“Happy Birthday Dear Heartache” gets a D

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. …you had to be barbara mandrell to get this one up to the top spot. a tranquilizer calling for more tranquilizers? sounds not exactly like a winning formula, unless you’re thinking of breaking bad of course.

  2. Isn’t country music studded with bizarre songs?

    A heartbreak song about unrequited love? A pity party whose guest list includes the blues, memories, and tears? A strong visual image of a sad, likely melting, cake with a lonely candle burning at just one end?

    The derivative melody and over familiar production provide the perfect emotionally uncomfortable and awkward mood for the kind of birthday celebration we all fear hosting. It’s a lame, boring, and predictable event nobody wants to share with us.

    Mandrel sings the hell out of it because he was the leaver and she was the left behind.

    I love this song.

    • I’m glad to know I am not alone among this readership base in very-much liking the entirety of this Mandrell song. Your comments are spot on, Peter, (per usual), and I thank you for articulating them in a way I never could reach.

  3. This is one of my favorite songs by Barbara too! Just goes to show how drastically people’s taste can be. Also have always loved The Yellow Rose…..

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